Acts 4 – A Dangerous Gospel

There are a number of similarities between events on Acts 2 and 3. Apparently Peter and John regularly went up to the temple for prayer and worship. While they were there, they had opportunity to preach Jesus as the messiah. The gospel of the risen and ascended Jesus would have been of interest to some of the Jews who were also at the Temple worship. Prior to both Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3 God did a miracle to demonstrate the messianic age has begun. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the healing of a lame man are both based on messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible. Peter clearly declares Jesus was the messiah and he was crucified in ignorance. But this ignorance will no longer be overlooked and judgment is coming. After both sermons thousands of people believe Jesus is the messiah and he is returning soon to establish his kingdom.

annas-caiaphasAfter healing the lame man and preaching to another large crowd, the Temple authorities arrest Peter and John (Acts 4). As Ben Witherington comments, Acts 4 is the “beginnings of the power struggle for the hearts of the Jewish people” (Acts, 189). For the next several chapters there is increasing tension and persecution between the ministries of the twelve Apostles and the seven deacons, culminating in the execution of Stephen at the end of chapter 7. Preaching the Gospel, as it turns out, is a very dangerous thing to do!

Peter and John are brought before Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 22:54, cf., John 11:49). The group which is gathered includes the elders and teachers of the Law, including the high priest Annas, and men from his family, Caiaphas, John and Alexander.

There is a historical problem here. Annas was high priest from A.D. 6-15, his son-in-law Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-36.  There are several explanations for this.  One possibility is that Luke lists Annas as the high priest since he is the real power behind Caiaphas (this is at least the view of John 18:13, since Jesus is brought to Annas before he is brought to Caiaphas, the actual high priest).  Caiaphas’s name has been found on a rather ornate ossuary (which does not appear to be a forgery, although Craig Evans doubts the name is the biblical Caiaphas, see Craig A. Evans, “Jesus and the Ossuaries,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 13 [2003]: 39).

Since whole Sanhedrin could have been as many as seventy men, it is unlikely the whole council met to question Peter. This is probably the high priest and his closest advisers and the questioning is intended to find out who authorized the apostles to declare publicly Jesus was the messiah (4:7). For Caiaphas and the others who were involved in Jesus’ execution, the claim God raised Jesus from the dead is more than just awkward, it is an attack on them as legitimate authority. They found Jesus guilty and killed him; God found him innocent and raised him from the dead.  Since Caiaphas and his advisers are Sadducees, they reject the possibility Jesus was the Messiah and especially that God raised him from the dead.

As Craig Keener points out, preaching in the Temple was not illegal, nor was healing a lame man or drawing a large crowd (2:1135). But it was extremely dangerous to declare a man who was executed as a false messiah was in fact the God’s messiah. It is a direct attack on the Temple aristocracy who killed Jesus. If the disciples continue to preach this message to the crowds, they will face increasing persecution from the aristocratic priesthood in Jerusalem.

Why do the disciples remain in Jerusalem? Could they not simply return to Galilee and preach the same gospel in a safer place? Why does Peter insist on emphasizing the participation of his audience in the death of Jesus? He seems to be attacking the Temple aristocracy directly, why does Peter not find a less-offensive way of preaching the Gospel?

20 thoughts on “Acts 4 – A Dangerous Gospel

  1. When it comes to preaching the Bible, evangelizing or being a missionary, it can be a very dangerous job. The disciples could have picked a safer place, maybe a place with less people, but in their minds I think they thought the more people, the better. Many people traveled into Jerusalem and the Temple contained the priests that were responsible for Jesus’s death. In the death of Jesus, is how we have salvation. If Peter did not emphasis the death of Christ, people would not realize the importance of His death. Peter could have found a less offensive way to preach, but he preached the way he should have. When wrong is being corrected it doesn’t always sounds pretty, and it shouldn’t feel good either.

  2. Addressing the question why the disciples decided to stay in Jerusalem, I believe that Peter chose to deliver his sermon to Jews since, he felt they were the ones to have murdered Jesus. In acts 2:23 Peter addresses the Jews the by saying. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” I believe that Paul intended to deliver the message in an attacking form of way for the Jews to realize what they had done. The Jews needed to know that the man they murdered was the messiah of God. And they need to know that this was a sin that could only be forgiven if they repent to God.

  3. It often seems that when the disciples preached in the most hazardous situations, they had the best outcomes for Christ. The times they were most severely persecuted or in dangerous situations, they received the most amount of attention to their message. For example, in Acts 4, after preaching to the people and being put in jail, the number of believers grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4) Later on in Acts 4:23-31, the disciples go to tell their people about everything that had happened to them. God is praised and shared through the recounting of the struggles of the apostles. Whether the disciples realized this fact and were trying to be forceful in order to get noticed, or whether God’s plan for them just worked out that way, they were very successful during these times of struggle in bringing people to Jesus.

  4. When Jesus was doing His ministry in the Bible, we find that He spent time with the sick and the prostitutes and the tax collectors, those looked down upon the most in society, because those are the people that needed Him most. The reason why they didn’t just go to a safer place like Galilee, is because those safer places to preach, although they need God as well, they are more likely to already have God. They are lashing out and persecuting because there are more people there that are both against God and in need of God the most. To quote the book “The Gutter” by Craig Gross, “The gutter is the place where we discover that we need God most.” (Gross 4). We must go where others are unwilling to go, and that’s exactly what they were doing in Jerusalem.

  5. Preaching the Gospel is something that has always been dangerous and will probably continue to be so. The reasons that Peter didn’t just go somewhere safer to preach the Gospel is because of the fact that the people who need it most will often be the most dangerous. I think it is important to notice the fact that they were preaching Jesus’ messiahship to those who killed Him. While they may not want to hear it and reject Jesus, it gives them a chance to repent for their actions and take responsibility for their ignorance. By giving them the chance to own up to what they’ve done (even though it was what God willed), we can get an illustration of how we live today.
    The only way to be saved and go to Heaven is if we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. There is no excuse for ignorance when it comes to salvation, which is why it is so important for Christians to actively be spreading the Gospel throughout the world. Without missionaries and pastors and other members of the church working to spread God’s Word, there are (and have been) millions who miss out on the Good News, leaving them to their ignorance with no hope for salvation. This is why Peter didn’t preach where it was safe; he was preaching to those who needed it more than they realized. They were willing to give their own lives for the advancement of the Gospel.

  6. Jerusalem is the best place to start with this new power from God. This is the place that has so many people that were all against Jesus and denied him from being free. These are the people that murdered Him. These are the people that Jesus asked God to for give them because they didn’t know what they were doing. They are already forgiven and now that apostles are going to make them aware of it so they can repent and accept that the Jesus was the true son of God.
    As Christians we are called to go out of our comfort zone. We are not suppose to go to places that have it all together, because it is the beaten and broken that God uses to share his message with the world. The anger of the high priests was still fresh, but the Apostles obeyed and stayed where Christ commanded them. I am sure they were nervous at first, but the same peace that we are given from God in tough situations was given to them as well. We are supposed to stretch ourselves and do whatever it takes to share the most important thing to all the world. The Gospel is the most precious thing we have to give to others. If we keep that for ourselves we are being selfish. Share what Christ has done for the world even if it makes you uncomfortable.

  7. The disciples remain in Jerusalem because those are the specific directions that the resurrected messiah gave them. Also I would argue that it is not yet time for the Gentiles to receive the message and a major festival was going on around the time of Peter and John preaching and so it only makes sense for them to reach as many Jewish people as they could which would have been in Jerusalem in the temple. Peter knew the scriptures and understood the risk that he had to take for Jesus, Jesus had even warned him of the suffering it would be to be one of his followers.

  8. Reading Peter’s continuous “attacks” and accusations to his audience does initially appear counterintuitive to his mission. You would think that this approach to witnessing would not be effective but instead push people away. Who in their right mind would want to sit and listen to someone tell them they were responsible for the death of another person? However, the harsh truth is sometimes the only way to get a message across to someone. Especially in this situation, it seems that bluntness was effective to thousands coming to a belief in Jesus. I think today, we are so accustomed to “treading lightly” in circumstances that may prove volatile or awkward. But the truth is that, like Peter, a strong stance may be the only way to get the message through at times. I am the first to say that I avoid conflict like the plague and would much rather just let something slide then express truth if it may upset or offend. While I would like to say I will grow bolder, the reality is I probably will continue to be this way in most situations. However, my hope is if the situation merited harsh truth, I would trust God to give me the courage to do it…in a loving way.
    I did not find Peter’s attacks on the Temple aristocracy unexpected, due to the attitude of the Sanhedrin. What I did find interesting was Polhill’s comments on Acts 4:12. He stated that Peter’s statement on salvation “was an implicit invitation to the Sanhedrin to place their faith in Jesus” (2088). Even though they rejected it, and Peter probably knew they would, I found this to be a good reminder that regardless of how someone might act, God still has a desire for them to come to a relationship with Him.

    Polhill, J.B. (Ed.). (2008). The Acts of the Apostles. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles.

  9. The Gospel was not only dangerous to those who believed and preached it, but also to those who opposed it. It is very clear that a struggle of power between the law that the high priest and Sadducees enforce and the message that Peter and John are teaching is beginning. While it may have made sense for Peter and John to not stir up trouble and teach elsewhere, the point of the Gospel, in a sense, is to offend. The Gospel is meant to confront man of their sin, speaking the truth of what man has really done, and then show them there is forgiveness through repentance. The reason that Peter stays to preach in Jerusalem is because it is where the heart of the Jewish faint resides. All of these activities are happening during a holiday; therefore, more people are present. Looking back at Acts 2:5 we already know that there are more people there than there normally would be so it would only make sense that Peter stayed there to preach because people had traveled to Jerusalem and he had a larger audience.
    Peter is confronting both the common people and the leaders on their actions. He is so insistent because he needs the people to understand that they killed the messiah that they had been waiting for. He has accused the Jews now twice in his sermons for the crucifixion of Jesus and now he turns to address the leaders of the people with the role they played (Polhill, 2087). The head priest and leaders of the law are being confronted with the truth of their actions. They did not like the teachings of Jesus then and saw it dangerous to their position of power. If the people were to accept the gospel, their need for the teachings of the law would no longer be held as highly as they once were. Because Paul does not sugar coat the Gospel or what the Jewish people have done, his boldness is seen as a threat to the Sadducees. Therefore, the Gospel is dangerous for both the pride of the Jewish leaders and the lives of those who live out the Gospel.

  10. A good question that is brought up via this blog post is, why didn’t the disciples return to Galilee or somewhere safer than Jerusalem to preach the gospel to the people? At this point it has not been revealed to the disciples and apostles that the message they were preaching was also meant for Gentiles and not just for Jews, so they were faithfully preaching to their targeted audience. Even though this makes sense, we still can question why they are staying in such an unsafe place, being so adamant about preaching to the Israelites. After Christs ascension they believed that he would come back soon, so they had urgency in all things they did, which is probably why they were so adamant about Israel’s salvation and preaching to them after all they were witness to/ what they ‘did’ to Christ their messiah.

  11. The disciples likely remain in Jerusalem because they are being obedient to where God has called them to serve. Ministry involves some risk as well as many blessings. Peter was called to minister to the Jews, and despite the cost, he was faithful. His bold speeches were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and again, he was being faithful. The best way to help someone believe they need a Savior is to help them see their sinfulness. Peter’s accusations about their participation in the crucifixion was an effective way to help them see their sin. Similarly, when a person is sick and needs to see a physician, they must first admit they are indeed sick. When a person is an addict and needs treatment, they must first admit they have an addiction. Peter is helping the Jews see that they are sinners in need of the Messiah as their Savior.

  12. I believe that one of the primary reasons that the apostles did not go to a safer place was because they had more of a crowd/bigger population in Jerusalem to spread the message to, especially since it was where the temple was where everyone came to worship and sacrifice. They are also confirmed in their choice to stay in Jerusalem in the next chapter when the angel who frees Peter and John tells them to continue preaching in the Jerusalem temple courts (Acts 5:21, ESV).
    I think that Peter emphasizes the participation of the audience in Jesus’s death because it was their sin that was His reason for dying. Even if they personally had not been in the crowds cheering for His death, they were still guilty of His blood because it was shed for them and their sins. As said by Paul, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with Him” (1 Thes. 5:9-10, ESV). Peter was reinforcing the idea that Jesus died not because of the good works that the Jews were performing throughout the course of their lives, but rather because of the mercy of God who loved His creation so much that He was willing to save them by sending His own son to be the sacrifice to cover their sins (Titus 3:5, ESV). Peter couldn’t have made this any less “offensive” because he needed to get the point across that the Jews needed a Savior and that Savior was Jesus.

  13. The fact is that preaching the gospel anywhere is a dangerous thing to do. It comes with many risk that Peter and John did not seem to care about those consequences. To me, they could have gone somewhere safer but that could mean less crowds and less of the word of God being spread. I believe in their minds they chose to stay in Jerusalem because of the larger crowds along with the temple being there. The reason they chose to stay at the temple is because the Priests were there who caused the death of Jesus. I think Peter continues to emphasize the participation of the audience in the death of Jesus because it would show them the importance of His death which in turn would cause the people to repent to God. The people committed the ultimate sin in the death of Jesus and Peter was going to make sure that they knew that. Hearing the truth is not always the best thing and may bring us down in the moment, but to have that realization after words always helps. Peter did the right thing by staying in Jerusalem because even though the people caused the death of Jesus, God still wants to have and build a relationship with them. Peter also pins the death of Jesus on the people because they need to see that they are all sinners and that the only way they can be free is through Jesus.

  14. It is true that the disciples were preaching the gospel in a “dangerous way”. Yet they were told to preach the gospel in Jerusalem and that is what they did. It reminds me of the verse referring to Jesus’ ministry which speaks about the fact that a prophet is not accepted in his own home. Could they have returned to Galilee and preached? Of course. But that is not what they were instructed to do. Did Peter have to emphasize that the Jewish people killed Jesus? Maybe. But in a sense, they already knew that he had been killed. In calling them to repentance, Peter had to explain and emphasis their sin. For a true repentance to occur they had to know what they needed to repent from.

    Both preaching the gospel pointedly, and doing so in Jerusalem were risky and dangerous. Yet the point of the gospel was not to bring ease, but redemption. In fact, Jesus himself said that he came not to bring peace, but a sword.
    The disciples were expecting a military leader. They were expecting Jesus to take Jerusalem by force. They were ready to fight. But this was not the way Jesus was bringing about the kingdom.

    I can’t help but wonder if preaching was harder. They were ready to do the hard thing and fight (which initially seems scarier and more dangerous). But the “softer” job of preaching to a sometimes hostile audience may have been harder. It wasn’t the adrenaline – conquering quest they’d imagined at one time.

    It almost makes a good metaphor of how the Holy Spirit works. It’s not loud and pushy (though the initiation at Pentecost was probably more dramatic). Generally speaking that’s how the gospel continues to spread and the kingdom continues to come on earth as it is in heaven. It’s though the hard things, the seemingly small things. It’s often unglamorous work, but that’s also part of the beauty of it too.

  15. Believers today can learn so much from Peter’s boldness to preach the gospel back in his day. Peter totally could have gone to Galilee to make it easier on himself, but he was acting in obedience to what God wanted him to do. The gospel is offensive because we are sinners, and there is no way to “get out” of sin than repentance due to knowing the truth. As believers, we know that this truth sets us free, as did Peter. He could not keep quiet because he knew what was on the other side if those in Jerusalem were not drawn to repentance.
    The disciples carried a message that went against the governing authority, showing that they are not the ones with all power and authority (Long). Those that were “annoyed” by Peter and John preaching the gospel were actually intimidated for the sake of their own jeopardy (Acts 4:2). Peter’s boldness to emphasize the ignorance to the crucifixion of Jesus shows the Holy Spirit speaking through him, like written in Acts 4:8.
    Peter used a direct way of sharing the Gospel because they needed to understand who they were dealing with. They needed a deeper understanding of what they played a role in, and that it cannot be looked over. The Spirit used Peter’s preaching to convict and turn hearts, but it also offended many.
    Today, many believers shy away from sharing the gospel, or sharing the full gospel, because we are scared of offense or rejection. As believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, we are able to speak the words that are from the Lord, and have boldness like Peter. Despite the persecution, the rejection of man or the approval, we instead see how worthy Jesus is to be preached.

  16. The question being asked is why are the disciples staying in Jerusalem where they are being persecuted? Could they not go to Galilee or somewhere else to take their message? I think as Christains we tend to separate Christianity and Judaism into two categories, which on one hand is right, there are two different beliefs, but on the other hand, Chrstainty is birthed out of Judaism, Jesus was a Jew right! All his disciples were Jewish. I think the disciples ayed in Jerusalem because that’s where they needed to be. They understood the risks, but the people they were preaching to could have been friends or family, their own people. They knew that Jesus was the only way for salvation, (John 14:6). I think Jesus was calling them to stay there and preach, to help them understand they’re falsehoods and incorrect teachings of what God wants for his people. The disciples were called to stay, because they needed to spread the truth about Jesus and who he was. Many in Jerusalem knew who Jesus was, but they needed teaching from the disciples to clarify who he really was, their messiah. He confronts the High Priest and teachers of the law because they untimely put Jesus to death, their false teachings and hypocrisy was telling the Jewish people a different story than what Jesus was preaching. There was work to be done in Jerusalem, we already know from Acts 2 that thousands were joining ranks with the disciples, Christianity was growing, it was formed out of the Jewish faith, it was the new covenant, and the Jewish people had the right to know the truth.

  17. When you have a knot in your back, where would a masseuse focus their time and energy? In the muscles nearby that are already loose and relaxed? Of course not! The masseuse would spend more time on the tight muscle in order to loosen the knot and relieve the pain it was causing. The strongest fight must always be against those who resist the most. In Acts 4, Peter continues to press those who persecute him because their hearts have been hardened and they desperately need salvation. It is incredible that the disciples would continue to preach to those that had a direct role in the murder of the Messiah! It certainly would have been easier for them to find a safer place to preach; a place that would have been more accepting of the message and more willing to adopt the truth of Jesus’ divine sacrifice. However, what message would they have been sending? If they had done this, it could have set a dangerous precedent for fellow and future Christians; it could have taught generations of missionaries to simply give up if someone resists their message. Additionally, if they successfully were able to convert top Jewish authorities to the new Jesus Movement, many Jews would have certainly followed suit. Yes, the disciples had no choice but to continue to try and preach to the Jewish leaders; holding back no blows; and using powerful, convicting rhetoric to show their persecutors that they had killed the Messiah and desperately needed to repent.

  18. Peter’s boldness is in direct contrast to his denial of Jesus. The shame he felt after that will never compare to anything that any man could ever do to him, the message of the Gospel is too important to him. Peter has always been known to show a little fire and persistence, even in his interactions with Jesus. The fact that he does not move on from Jerusalem because of a safety concern is all the more testament to his willingness to sacrifice his life for the sake of Jesus. Peter and the other disciples knew Jesus personally. They saw him suffer and they also saw him resurrected. John 20:29 is Jesus talking to Thomas about believing even if he has not seen. He even says, “Blessed are those who believe me without seeing.” They almost have no excuse not to have the amount of faith that they have, but Jesus seems to say that neither does anyone else! It’s easy to say that they are willing to suffer because they knew his face, but yet we’ve been given scripture and God’s creation, and don’t we see him in these?
    Peter lets the council know that they messed up in almost every single encounter with them in the beginning of Acts. He is not letting them off easy. The purpose behind this is curious though. Is he trying to make them feel guilty? Maybe show them they are sinners in need of a savior? Or more of a “I don’t really like you guys because you killed my friend” attitude? I doubt the last one, but we know Peter has guts. The truth of the gospel can be offensive. Who wants to be told they are a sinner? I sure don’t but it’s the truth and if it wasn’t direct would they ever know it?

  19. To hear the gospel referred to as “dangerous” is (fortunately and unfortunately) a foreign concept in the western world, and specifically in America. It’s fortunate because we are given the opportunity in our country to preach and live the gospel freely, without any serious/physical persecution. It is unfortunate because so many of us take that for granted. We don’t have to outwardly fight as hard or stand for our faith as Christians in countries like Burma, China, Russia, India, etc do. We are not forced to be set apart in our country as we should be set apart, like the apostles had to be among those who rejected the gospel. We have to actively choose to be set apart and stand in and for our faith, but being given this choice causes many of us to be casual Christians who don’t mind blending in for the world. It causes many of us to be “pew” Christians, those who settle for just sitting on a pew every Sunday instead of making disciples or allowing the fruit of God to be evident in our lives. How do we know we are not far from facing the kind of persecution the early church did? Or the kind that Christians face in the above mentioned countries? It is time to live out our faith boldly in the western world, and in America.

  20. I think the simple answer to the question “Why did the disciples remain in Jerusalem?” is that Jerusalem is where Jesus commanded them to go first. Beyond that, to remain in Jerusalem–although it means certain persecution–means that they are encountering the crowds coming to the Temple. When Peter heals the man outside of the Beautiful Gate, the man’s leaping for joy is witnessed by the whole crowd. In going to Jerusalem, they are not having to seek out a crowd–by performing miracles, and just by nature of their reputation, the crowds are likely following them.

    In terms of Peter not finding a “less offensive” way to preach the gospel–why would he? This is not a case of the “Temple aristocracy” simply disrespecting Jesus or calling him a liar, but the case of them putting him to death on a cross. I don’t think there’s any “easier” way to confront the fact that the people before whom Jesus is speaking *are* responsible for the death of Jesus. However, Peter does not simply condemn them – he also states that there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – this is an “implicit invitation to the Sanhedrin to place their faith in Jesus” (Polhill, 2008, p. 2088.).

    Let this be a lesson to us when we feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth boldly. Our boldness should not simply compel us to condemn someones wrongdoings–it should also compel us to plead with them to accept the Salvation that comes through Christ alone.

    Polhill, John. (2008). The Book of Acts. Pages 2073-2145 in ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway.

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